Cult Broadcasting Corp.

This will be pointless, of course, since Kirstine Stursberg has already shoved a cinder block onto the accelerator and the car is heading Thelma & Louise–style for the cliff. But why can’t CBC Television – you know, the service that right-wing assholes thinks costs a billion a year – do what the Quebec movie industry does?

Quebec movies plug every hole

I once read an explanation for the across-the-board success of Quebec cinema: Faced with Hollywood imports dubbed (or, rarely, subtitled) into French, the industry had no choice but to compete in every market category. (Except, apparently, science fiction, which is not always expensive – Sunshine or Soderbergh’s Solaris could have been shot in Quebec. Or 28 Days Later.)

This bullshit about the Quebec “star system” I have never actually bought. (And it was the reasoning behind the formation of the Star<bang> network. It didn’t work there, either, because Star<bang> got shitcanned in favour of E<bang>.) It’s true, though, that Quebec “stars” appear regularly on talk shows and such. And they’re all over the various TV series. But fundamentally I think Quebec cinema works because, even if they don’t vote for secession, French-speaking Quebeckers are fundamentally nationalistic and stick up for their own kind. The film industry provides everything they need to stay local. Anglos just aren’t like that and its film industry coddles wannabe Egoyans.

Alternative to “alternative”

I don’t see why we couldn’t adapt the Quebec model for CBC Television. Why can’t the public broadcaster’s mainstream TV channel be an alternative to everything else? To date, people have interpreted “alternative” as “doing what the Privates don’t.” But what if it means providing a little bit of everything, only better?

Now, if you miss those last two words you end up with Sophie. Miss the rest of the statement and you shitcan Intelligence and jPod (and Opening Night, and Moving On). Because what I’m talking about is plugging every hole in the schedule. The Privates plug only some of the holes. You have to match what they’re doing and also fill in what they’re missing. At that point there is, in fact, something for everyone on your service. You are then a public broadcaster.

I am not talking about doing the exact opposite of what the Privates are doing (another misreading of “alternative”). Nor am I talking about actual cloning of Privates’ programming, because then the right-wing assholes wheel out their zero-sum argument that the CBC isn’t distinctive enough from the Privates to warrant continued existence.

I am talking about offering a full range of kinds or categories of programming – becoming a general-interest service that, to attract a general audience, occasionally has to attract niches too. Like the way Procter & Gamble sells laundry detergent – Tide “competes” against Cheer and Bold, but ultimately all sales go back to the mother ship.

So: You run Heartland and Little Mosque and those gumtoothed news “parody” shows. You run American game shows just to make money. (And you also run The Simpsons, but nobody minds that.) You have news programming. You have kids’ shows, movies (including Canadian and foreign), documentaries. Sports of various kinds. Strombo. That describes the current schedule.

But what about “cult” programming? CBC has absolutely none of that. Kenny vs. Spenny does not count here, my friends. Cult shows don’t have to be obscure nerdbait like MST3K, but they have to be unusual and well-done. Because even with too frigging many specialty channels, this country is not doing cult programming anymore. It’s an unplugged hole, essentially.


  1. Ed the Sock: Shitcanned in August ’08. I must be the only invert in the country who actually enjoyed Ed’s (or Ed & Red’s) Night Party. (Actually, they could do a really excellent episode featuring teh Gays.) Tacky, vulgar, or broad in just the right way. Anybody remember Ed the Sock’s interviews with rock stars on Much? Snappy, combative, lots of verve. Hugh Dillon nearly walked off the set one time.

  2. Kath & Kim: A reason for living unto itself, my heart sank when I saw the online trailer for the American homogenization of this Australian treasure.

    NBC ‘Kath & Kim’ trailer

    We channel-surfed into it on Showcase a couple of years ago and I nearly lost my shit. It was the highlight of my week for what little time it lasted.

    Colour captions: What about piss-elegant? That’s more you. That’s not me.

    Yes, those are Australian captions

  3. Posh Nosh: Shockingly brilliant ten-minute cooking segments from an upper-class couple anchored by a pluperfect Richard E. Grant (who is, incidentally, Swazi, not British). “Next week on Posh Nosh, we’ll be disabling a partridge in its own jus.” (Videos.)

  4. Backstage Passport: Oh, dear: A documentary series about a Canadian band that nobody in Canada wants to show. Except MusiquePlus. (Quebec does it again!)

    [N]one of the four music-related channels in English Canada signed on for Backstage Passport. Of course, it’s really one outlet: MuchMusic, MuchMoreMusic, MTV and MTV2 are all owned by CTV. (Much’s ex-sister station MusiquePlus was sold to Astral Media last year.)

    They also own MuchMoreRetro, MuchVibe, and PunchMuch. And MuchLoud (problems), this show’s natural home. (Or IFC.)

    “It’s not even money…. They don’t want to put out anything that might offend somebody, [anything] that’s real…. People who work at MTV Canada, they don’t fucking care who we are.”

    I contacted a Much/MTV publicist, who E-mailed that they “are looking at it. However, at this time no decision has been made.” But Mike says, “we played it for them. They weren’t interested. Now it’s too late…. MusiquePlus is the last station that’s going to get it.”

So the Corpse can’t get Backstage Passport either. Ed the Sock will need a whole new series. Posh Nosh is unnew, clever, and British – three strikes, even in a post-Tudors environment. Kath & Kim is still on the air and is immediately viable as a replacement for the seriously overplayed Arrested Development in late-night stripping.

If you’re not careful you turn yourself into a PBS member station in Idaho running Fawlty Towers during pledge drives. I know that. I also know you cannot set out to invent cult programming. It’s like setting out to be culturally significant or enduring. But some programming eventually manifests itself as cult. Why can’t we run some of it?

Why can’t CBC be the home of the next Trailer Park Boys?


  1. Anonymous
    Posted October 27, 2008 at 9:51 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I agree with the anon who pointed to the push for ratings as the centre of evil for CBC.

    Toronto? Whatever. It’s the media hub of Canada, and many people move there to do production. I feel though that there would be lots more risk of failure if the ratings were not so important.

    Blame that silly PARC metric. Or better yet, the person/people who brought it in. Who both still have jobs making decisions about programmes.

    There has been a big move to centralize the “process” of making programme and development decisions. This is what you get – the same stuff from the same groups targeting the same audience decided by a small group of people.

    Free up the decisions, and you get some mavericks willing to try new things. But of course CBC is moving in the exact opposite direction.

  2. Fake Ouimet
    Posted October 26, 2008 at 9:16 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    The CBC is a broadcaster, not a constitutional democracy.

    So again: Wheel over a right-wing asshole who actually supports the CBC in principle and in practice and doesn’t want to (nonsensically and self-contradictorily) “privatize” it and then we’ll talk. I’ll be happy to give him (sic) exactly one guest post.

  3. Anonymous
    Posted October 26, 2008 at 4:41 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    CBC Farm: All Canadians are equal, but some Canadians are more equal than others.

  4. Richard Stursberg
    Posted October 25, 2008 at 7:30 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I didn’t like that Animal Farm book. It made no sense. What was with all the animals talking? Stupid.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted October 25, 2008 at 1:13 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Animal Farm? He wrote a bit more than “1984”.

    You might want to pick up “Liberal Fascism” by Jonah Goldberg.

  6. Fake Ouimet
    Posted October 25, 2008 at 12:04 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    It’s only Orwellian if I’m surveilling you via your viewscreen.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted October 25, 2008 at 11:07 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Very Orwellian of you.

  8. Fake Ouimet
    Posted October 25, 2008 at 6:00 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    When right-wing assholes demonstrate they have an interest in the CBC other than “privatizing” it, I will take your remark seriously.

    Oh, and, Allan? Sometimes a blog post requires more than 300 words. What, you didn’t like the pictures?

  9. Allan
    Posted October 25, 2008 at 3:31 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    eh, no, Daley … it’s HERE

  10. Daley
    Posted October 24, 2008 at 8:49 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    You can get a higher quality version of Posh Nosh here

  11. Anonymous
    Posted October 24, 2008 at 7:23 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Heartbeat, Ballykissangel, Coronation Street, East Enders……

    Why the hell hasn’t the CBC created a similar program based in St John’s or Halifax?

    Because neither is a suburb of Toronto, hence, we got Riverdale.

    And Joe, the CBC is supposed to serve the interests of all Canadians, including right wing assholes.

  12. Anonymous
    Posted October 24, 2008 at 6:57 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Please list the national shows, on any English language service of the CBC, that originate outside Toronto. For all kinds of reasons, none of them good, it is not a “national” public broadcaster but a bunch of jobs in Toronto. No wonder it’s so terrifically boring and irrelevent.

  13. Allan
    Posted October 24, 2008 at 3:29 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Posting and ranting are almost synonymous here at TM. So no need to be overly polite Anon1259.
    Quebec, Vancouver, Toronto:
    joe does a nice job here of bringing attention to the wonderful independence and creative confidence of our French neighbours, even if his post is way too long and scatter-brained.
    Let's face it, English Canada has nothing on the Quebec broadcasters. Sometimes I wish they'd caption it for the rest of the country to enjoy. By comparison it's as if the other provinces have no culture at all except for music and books. If anything epitomizes the sorry state of anglo popular taste it would be the annoying branding of George as the face of a generation. What a disappointment, and so off the mark.
    In fashion alone French women are so far ahead in style and good taste. And they don't need Holt Renfrew to make it work.

    The divide between Vancouver and Toronto is not as significant as with Anglos and Francophones, but it is noticeable.
    Toronto is all business, and driven.
    Vancouver, more laid back and bordering on flaky. (I'm partial to flaky of course)
    To work in Toronto and then Vancouver is like moving from New York to New Mexico – waaay different. More spiritual, actually. People scheme in Toronto, while they dream in Vancouver.

    Griping about the dominance of Toronto as the hub of national media is an old complaint, going back as far as I can remember ( and I go back to the days of "Take 30" and "The Battle of the Sexes" and b&w TV).
    I too resented that so much of the content was made up of talent that resided exclusively in Toronto, when there were so many extraordinary people on the west coast. It just didn't seem fair, if not something close to arrogant.
    But it seems to me that there is some programming evident on the national channel that gives a nod to the creatives who thrive in the rain forest of Canada.
    DNTO for example, and now I think Ameer's show "The Point" comes from there. (I could not bear listening to that show after 3 episodes, what an unfocused hodgepodge of topics, with a really dull host).

    But I still think that the CBC fails to represent the entire country, and is poorer for it.
    It's easy to think that nothing ever happens in Regina or Calgary or Winnipeg, and that can't be right.

  14. Anonymous
    Posted October 24, 2008 at 12:07 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    What were the ratings like for Trailer Park Boys?

    Not very good, I suspect, despite the rabid following.

    Stop chasing viewers, have confidence in your programming and relax, CBC.

  15. Anonymous
    Posted October 24, 2008 at 10:59 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I’ll probably get strung up for this, but part of the problem, in TV and in Radio, is that all the decisions are made in Toronto.

    The problem isn’t centralized management, it’s that there’s a very cautious, conservative “Toronto” attitude behind CBC management and programming.

    A number of people making important programming decisions have never lived anywhere else. (And unless they’ve done intensive French and crawl around the upper cable channels, they only know about Quebec TV from posts like this one. Even former prez Robert Rabinovitch – from Montreal – didn’t really speak French)

    This is a company where people use “the regions” to mean “everywhere except Toronto”.

    Just look at the arts programming: it has “Southern Ontario” written all over it. Even though – and here’s where I really get strung up – unless you’re a novelist writing in English Toronto is arguably NOT Canada’s cultural capital. (Just ask yourself if Canadian music is centred in Toronto.)

    There’s more, but I feel like I’ve hit the border between posting and ranting.

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